Go Play Outside!
“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist,” wrote Richard Louv, a journalist and author of many books, the most well-known of them being Last Child in the Woods. He introduced this concept of nature-deficit disorder in children, and I daresay, he hit the nail on the head.
As humans have congregated in and around cities and our parks and playgrounds have given way to steel buildings, our children have had to do with smaller and smaller natural spaces. Add to that the lure of video games and the constant threat of a raging pandemic, and what do we have on our hands? Kids who would rather stay home. I can point you to a slew of articles on this topic, or better still, you can google them later yourselves.
Right now, I would much rather tackle the problem at hand. Winter. Is. Coming.
As you can see above, we got a little preview last week. Soon, the days will get shorter and colder, and we will find comfort in our cozy fireplaces and fuzzy blankets. And rightly so. After all, houses were built with this sole purpose in mind. To provide shelter. But here in New England, winter lingers on well into March, so how do we make sure we get enough Vitamin D during these chilly months? I, for one, have decided to take inspiration from the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv (roughly meaning “open-air living”) and this wonderful Scandinavian saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
While reading about the benefits of the outdoors, I found out that CU Boulder researchers have identified an anti-inflammatory fat in a soil-dwelling bacterium (Mycobacterium vaccae) that may help reduce stress, and in turn, make us feel happy. I have always maintained children should play outside and I would much rather have them dig for worms than learn their letters in pre-school.
This claim about the stress-busting microbe found in dirt comes thirty-one years after British scientist David Strachan coined the controversial term “hygiene hypothesis” suggesting that lack of exposure to microorganisms in childhood in our clean and modern world is the leading cause of impaired immune systems. He went further on to say that it is also responsible for higher rates of allergies and asthma in children. Both my kids have food allergies so I had dug deep into this hygiene factor way back in 2011 and truth be told, I wasn’t convinced.
Since then, researchers have refined his theory, suggesting that it’s the lack of exposure to “old friends”, that is, the beneficial microbes found in soil and not disease-causing germs, that have contributed to higher rates of allergies and such. Moreover, mental health is also altered by these old friends aka microbes.
So how do we meet these healthy microbes when it’s freezing outside? We bundle up in layers and we look for tips from explorers and athletes. I found this article Yes, Your Kids Can Play Outside All Winter by Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan to be rather helpful.
She has interviewed a bunch of professionals and among all the advice, I liked this the best – “Make sure the hands, head, heart and feet are covered; out of those, the feet are probably the most important thing,” said Pete Ripmaster, who won the 2018 Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000 on foot (a 1,000-mile winter ultramarathon that traces the route of the eponymous sled dog race across Alaska). Based in Asheville, N.C., he started winter backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains with his daughters, now 9 and 11, when the youngest was 5.
Of course, this brings us back to the Scandinavian saying – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
This winter will have its own set of challenges and if this lovely old-school concept of friluftsliv and some friendly bacteria can make us feel better, let’s embrace it. Just make sure your hands and feet are toasty and you have plenty of hot cocoa for later. I like mine with a couple of mini-marshmallows bobbing up and down on the chocolate.
How about you?